Communications - 4th Canadian Divisional Signal Company - 7 to 14 August 1918

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The following is the text of an original report.[1]

FROM 7th TO 14th AUGUST 1918

1. The 3rd Battle of the Somme has offered Canadian Signals the first opportunity to put into practical use the various alternative and supplementary methods of communication, that have been practiced ever since 1914.

2. In stationary trench warfare, seven foot buried cable has made the telephone service so certain that all other methods of communication have become superfluous and it is only the keenest optimism that has maintained the efficiency of such alternatives as wireless, visual and cable wagons.

3. The training undertaken by this Company in May and June has proved to be of the utmost value.

(a) By locating each specialist where his personal ability is of the greatest service.
(b) By training all branches in detail so that ordinary routine is automatic and heads of departments are available to cope with the unexpected.

4. The following is a table of the moves of the 4th Cdn. Divl. Hqrs.

Location       Opened   Closed
Gentalles   T.17.b.   10 p.m. 7th   8 a.m. 8th
Douart   T.26.d.   8 a.m. 8th   1 p.m. 8th
Domain   D.1.c.   1 p.m. 8th   6 a.m. 10th
Cayeux   V.23.c.7.2.   6 a.m. 10th   7 a.m. 10th
Caix   E.11.c.5.9.   7 a.m. 10th   2 p.m. 10th
Windmill   H.   2 p.m. 10th   12 noon 17th

5. Alternative methods of communication should be kept up in the following order of importance.

(a) Telephone and Telegraph
(b) D.R.L.S. (motorcycle, horse and runners)
(c) Wireless
(d) Visual
(e) Pigeons

Telephone and Telegraph

In moving warfare telephone lines must be reduced to the absolute minimum and be devoted solely to facilitate operations. This is necessitated by the fact that the maintenance becomes most difficult when all lines are laid over the open country, thus being absolutely unprotected and constantly cut by passing tanks, cavalry and infantry. Lines must be laid direct from formation to formation in order that no unnecessary delay is caused. Shelled areas cannot be avoided and unprotected lines are constantly di???d. Great care must be taken that all telephone conversation and telegrams are made as concise as possible, for over single earth return lines, it is impossible to superimpose the telegraph and thus carry on conversation and morse simultaneously. From the 8th to the 15th inst (both inclusive) the following signal traffic was handled by the Div Hdqrs Signal Office.

Telegraph messages

1140   Sent
948   Received
416   Transmitted


Registered   690   Sent
Unregistered   2100   Sent


185   Sent
65   Received


19   Sent
17   Received


Despatch Riders were worked very hard and proved to be of great value. The tendency is to send out a great number of special runs and, for the sake of economy in both personnel and machines, it is hoped, in future operations that this will be kept to a minimum. If possible, Brigade D.Rs. should only be used for special runs back to the Division, and Horse D.Rs. forward of Brigade, where distances are short and roads are usually poor.

One troop of the Cdn. Light Horse was attached to this company as mounted Despatch Riders. These were distributed by the “G” Branch to all Brigades, leaving 1 Officer and 5 other ranks at Divisional Headquarters. These mounted D.Rs. proved most valuable and it is advised that in future operations the following mounted D.Rs. will be made available to Signals:

Div. Hdqrs   1 Officer   10 O.R.
C.R.A   1 N.C.O   3 Troopers
Inf. Bde. (each)   1 N.C.O   4 Troopers
Arty. Bde. (each)   --------   2 Troopers

Each Brigade signal section has extra attached infantry men which are obtained direct through the Brigade and are vital, under all present conditions, in view of the results that are rightly expected but that would be impossible to produce with the bare War establishment of a Brigade Signal Section.


Spark wireless, as far forward as Brigades, has proved of the greatest value and has formed a vital link in the communication system. Its importance is felt when units take up a new location before telephone wires can be laid to them.

All units must be impressed with the importance of setting up their Wireless Stations immediately they select their Headquarters, so that communication can be opened up as quickly as possible.

Most Wireless traffic must be transmitted in code, so that brevity will speed up the service, and any message that can be sent in clear should be marked “By Wireless – in clear” and signed by the sender.

In future operations it is expected that even better results will be obtained from the Wireless and that great value will be derived from an extensive use of this means of message traffic as far forward as Battalion Headquarters.

Communications to flanking units is always difficult and Wireless is most important for this purpose.

Every precaution must be taken to transport Wireless apparatus with great care, as the instruments are delicate and rough handling will put them out of adjustment.


Visual Lamp stations must be set out with the least possible delay and every endeavor made to get into touch with higher and lower formations. If the nature of the country necessitates that a station must be located some distance from the official Map location of the headquarters, all interested units must be notified of the exact map location of the visual station in order to ensure correct alignments.

Visual is slow as compared to all the other alternatives and must only be resorted to when (a) and (c) fail.


The difficulties of delivery are great and the channel of communication is most involved. However, these birds should be utilized at the most forward posts and will often be the means of saving many lives and clearing up a difficult situation.

Corps Pigeon D.Rs. should deliver direct to Bde. Pigeon cars, as far forward as possible.


1. Unit Locations. These should be supplied to Signals as accurately and as early as possible. A Despatch Rider or a cable detachment must be given the exact coordinate location to which they are to proceed, especially when working at night.

2. Signal Officers should be informed of the detailed operation plans, as early as possible, in order to give them every opportunity for reconnaissance and the formulation of plans.

3. Movements of Headquarters present the greatest difficulty to Signals. It is realised that the role performed by this Division in the recent operations prevented any pre-arranged scheme of advance being put into effect. This also applied to our Signal forecasts and, instead of being able to step up from Headquarters to Headquarters, new lines had to be laid at each successive move until our arrival at the Windmill H.23.d.9.3 on the 10th inst.

4. Cable wagons have proved to be of the greatest value and to provide the fastest and best method of laying telephone lines, under open warfare conditions in clear country. The best results have been obtained with Single D.5, as speed and simplicity are the all important factors.

5. It is important to prevent all unnecessary fatigue to the men, horses and motor transport by moving headquarters as seldom as possible.

In forward moves, units should always endeavor to take up their new headquarters in or near a place to which the communications of a lower formation already exist.

(signed) F.G. Malloch, Major, C.E.
O.C., 4th Cdn Divi. Signal Coy., C.E.

Reference your S.8/7-3 of 19th inst., -

Spark Wireless

The Division Wireless Station handled 200 important messages between August 8th and August 16th. Most of our work was done with Corps. Several messages were handled for Brigades but line communications being good, we were seldom called upon to handle traffic.

Loop Sets

Nothing was done with Loop Sets, which was principally due to the following: -

(a) The men were exhausted, after marking so far before the attack and were unable to carry these sets,
(b) The Battalion Headquarters were too far ahead of B Brigade to make it possible for Loop Set working.

Amplifier-Power Buzzers

No results were obtained with these sets.

C.W. Wireless

Good results were obtained with C.W., but owing to our Brigade sets being broken in transit, we were unable to do anything until the 11th August. Since that date quite a lot of traffic has been handled between Artillery Brigades and Divisional Artillery.


Personnel. Would suggest that the N.C.O. establishment be increased to allow each Brigade Station to have a 2nd Corporal in charge. The man in charge of a Brigade station has often to supervise Loop sets and Amplifiers and Power Buzzer working in his Brigade Area. If he has no rank, he cannot control men and get the same results.
C.W. Personnel. At present these men are attached to the Div’l. Artillery to operate C.W. Stations. Most of these men have been away from their units for several months, consequently their chances of promotion is nil. It is suggested that all C.W. personnel be taken on the strength of the Div’l. Wireless Section, where they will get their promotion according to merit.

Wireless Communication

On one or two occasions in the recent operation, we had considerable difficulty in keeping W/T communication with Corps. This was due to Corps Station being too far behind Divisions. Would suggest that Corps establish a Directing Station well forward in the centre of the Corps Area. The duty of this Station would be to set up an Intermediate Station when communication between Corps and Divisions is difficult. If a high-powered set could be procured for this purpose, it would be most useful.

Loop Sets, Amplifiers, Power-Buzzers

When the advance is so rapid as in our recent operations it is extremely difficult to get these sets into operation. They are very useful for establishing temporary communication when the final objective has been gained.

[signed (handwritten)]
Major, C.E. (for O.C. 4th Cdn. Div. Signal Coy, C.E.)

Signal Subsection No. 1, Attchd to 3rd Bde CFA
August 8th, 1918 - - - - - August 13th, 1918

The 3rd Battle of the Somme provided to be splendid instruction for all Signal personnel who were lucky enough to take part in it.

Many of our ideas were revolutionized and the 5 days of the Battle from August 8th to August 13th were enough to make known to all ranks that for communications in open warfare, an absolute breakaway from trench warfare systems is necessary and entirely different methods should be employed. Luckily, our signallers excelled in adaptability and after the 1st day became accustomed to quick changing over and all ranks seemed to enter into the spirit of the game and buoyed up by our troops successes, it took them very little time to get accustomed to, as far as they were concerned, the new era in warfare.

The telephonic communications for the initial attack were not extensive, lines were run to batteries, Division, Infantry Brigade, and lateral Artillery Brigades.

A Brigade Signal Office was established at the Brigade H.Q. No messages were sent over the lines (excepting such as were necessary for maintenance of lines) until zero hour.

A visual scheme had been arranged by Col. MacDonald, with the idea of keeping the Brigade in touch with the FOO’s, unfortunately a fairly thick fog prevented this scheme being carried out. Consequently the information we obtained from FOO’s in the 1st phase of the attack was nil.

The Signal Office was closed at 10.30 a.m. on August 8th, 1918, and opened in an open trench in ORCHARD to left of WHITE HOUSE on AMIENS-ROYE ROAD P.M. same day. From then on until the 11th Aug. proved to be a very interesting period and practically all lines with the exception of locals were laid by the cable cart. Only earth returns were used in conjunction with an old pattern earth return switch board, which turned out to be invaluable after having been carried around in the cable cart for 3 years.

The country was very suitable for cable cart work, as there were practically no trenches, and it was found possible to link up all Batteries, flank Units and Infantry Brigade, in some cases before these units got into position.

The cable cart provided a valuable asset, and without it telephonic communication could not have been maintained after the 1st day. The moves forward were frequent, and it was necessary to pick up cable to carry on, as no wire could be brought up from Division as they naturally had their own battle to fight.

From August11th on, we practically settled down to trench warfare and no further use was made of the cable cart. Nevertheless, earth returns were still maintained as lines were very long, and there was no buried system in this area.

A few outstanding features of our experiences might be mentioned, as they might serve as a future record: -

(1) An Artillery Brigade needs at least 20 miles of D.III cable in hand for an operation of this nature.
(2) Every opportunity should be taken in picking up old lines and salvaging any German wire laid out.
(3) An earth return board on the four common bar system for at least 15 lines should be on the establishment of a subsection.
(4) A good supply of small stores (tape, pliers, cells, etc) should be kept as it is practically impossible to get them from Division during an advance.
(5) Arrangements should be made that each battery on taking up a new position, should immediately despatch a mounted orderly with location of his battery to Brigade Signal Office, provided that the line has not already been laid in battery position.
(6) If time and opportunity permits a line should be laid connecting all batteries laterally.
(7) Two forward lines only are necessary with two batteries connected on each line.
(8) Close touch with infantry was always maintained, as in most cases infantry Brigade H.Q. were established close to Artillery Bde H.Q.
(9) The cable cart and R.E. Limber proved insufficient transport. On the 9th of August, I salvaged a Hun (small) G.S. Wagon and left my R.E. Limber behind for the salvage people to dispose of. The cable cart should always be striped and ready for immediate use, and not loaded down with equipment and Kit, as was necessary before salvaging the German vehicle.
(10) Finally it was again demonstrated that an ounce of practice is far better than a ton of theory, and provided the signallers, and lines man have a fair amount of intelligence, as ours had, it takes them very little time to jump into a new situation with a zealousness and resolution that is calculated to carry the thing through with an appreciable measure of success.
(signed) (T.S. Hall, Lieut. C.E.,)
Officer i/c Signals, 3rd Bde C.F.A.

(Note: following transcribed from handwritten notes)
12th C,B.

Reference recent operations, I have gathered the following impressions relative to signal Communication during the above

1. That the existing establishment of a Bde section is too small, that quite a number of Bn men are needed to carry out the work involved,

2. That in open warfare where movement is not too rapid and shelling not very heavy that line communication be of primary importance,

3. That the weight of D11 is considerable considering it has to be carried by men who are fully equipped. The boche wire seems to find favour, but as to its service no experience has been gained.

4. That fixed visual stns be arranged before hand, at some conspicuous point. This could be changed afterwards, by this means even in fairly fast moving warfare Bde & Bns need not lose touch for long intervals.

5. That some smoke bomb or other conspicuous means be adopted which could be used to denote a signal stn.

6. That the Bde establishment of 2 lucas lamps is quite too small should suggest 6 as a minimum

7. That it is just as big an error not to carry enough wire and technical supplies as to carry too much.

8. A point, that seems to be much remarked by many is the well known one about the necessity of never closing a signal office without informing all stations concerned, much inconvenience is said to have been caused by this being occasionally overlooked.

(signed) (H.A. Golur?????

P.S. Packed mules may be very useful when having to cross an entrenched area.


  1. Library and Archives Canada, RG9, III, D.3. Volume:5005.